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Wal-Mart case highlights status of women in US workplace

The Supreme Court is considering a class-action lawsuit from more than one million women claiming sex discrimination. Here is a snapshot of how women are faring in the workplace.

Women protesters hold signs in front of the Supreme Court while the class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart is argued inside the court in Washington.

Larry Downing/Reuters

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The US Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on a potentially massive discrimination lawsuit by female employees of Walmart. The court will decide whether the women's allegations on pay and promotions should be treated as a class-action lawsuit, a key factor in determining the retailer's financial exposure if it eventually loses in court.

With this high-profile case in the news, here's a by-the-numbers look at how women are faring in the US economy in general.

1. Pay gap with men

Last year a female worker typically earned 81 cents for every $1 earned by a male counterpart, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That gap isn't as big as it once was, but some researchers argue the rift reflects a big unequal-pay problem.

"Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the research indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination," contends the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, citing evidence from women who graduated from college in 1992-93.

Gender gaps exist for full-time workers, according to that 2007 study, even in fields where women make up a majority of employees, such as administrative support.

In some occupations women out-earn men, the BLS finds. Food preparation and serving workers who are women earn 112 percent of what male counterparts earn. At the other end of the scale, women financial advisers earn 58 percent less than men in that field.

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